|The Rushden Echo and Argus, 14th March, 1947, transcribed by Gill Hollis
They Started for Rushden - “E.T.” Explorers Only Reached Finedon
By Tony Amundsen
For the first time in the history of the “Evening Telegraph,” we were forced last Thursday to deliver some of the papers by sledge, which is why some Finedon folk got damp and dog-eared copies.
But here is the story of an epic expedition which pushed through a stretch of road which even a bulldozer had failed to clear.
It all began on the night of the fifth, as the Inspector always says in detective novels, while we were in bed dreaming of summer days, ice cream tooti-frootis and swimming at Overstone Solarium.
As we were thus occupied, the blizzard took a mean advantage of us. Banging the Air Ministry’s thaw expert over the head with a couple of isobars, it crept across Northamptonshire and deposited a drift five miles long between Burton Latimer and Irthlingborough.
In the middle of it was Finedon, and no vehicle short of a Sherman tank with a jet engine on the front of it could get into Finedon or out of Finedon.
To ordinary mortals this would not have mattered much. Who wants to go to Finedon, anyway?
What the Pilot Said
But newspaper Circulation Departments are different. “Good heavens,” said our Circulation Department, “That means Finedon won’t get any papers to-night. Or Irthlingborough. Or Higham Ferrers. Or Rushden. We shall have to send ‘em by plane.”
So they rang up for a helicopter, but the pilot said he was sorry but look at the weather and what the helicopter was the fun of going out in blizzards?
“All right,” said the C.D. “We’ll send ‘em by sledge.” And having made this momentous decision they lit cigars and huddled closer to their electric fire (both bars on).
Now it is a well-known fact that circulation people only go out of the office on the brightest of sunny days, riding in a limousine with windows closed to exclude nasty draughts.
Part of the Epic
They whiz from Burton to Finedon in four minutes, and think a sledge negotiating five feet of snow can do likewise. But it can’t.
I can speak with authority on this, because when the sledge party started its epic (yes, I know I’ve used that word before) trek up the hill out of Burton, I was one of it.
Don’t ask me why put it down to a combination of C.D. pressgang tactics, weak good nature on my part, and lack of knowledge of exactly how many tons of snow had fallen between Burton and Finedon.
We travelled to Burton by van, which swayed, shuddered, banged our heads on the roof, skidded, jitter-bugged on each wheel in turn, and finally stopped, baffled by a mountain of snow half way up the hill to Finedon.
Snowshoes - Or Were They?
Before this Ben Nevis of whiteness all the wizardry of Dagenham Works was helpless, so we abandoned it. I must amplify the “we” so that the names of the expedition may go down in history.
There were Roly, Tommy, Son and me. We got the two sledges out of the van, loaded on the papers, and looked around for the snowshoes.
“You’ll be all right,” the C.D. had said through a haze of cigar smoke as we left, “we’ve put some snow shoes in.”
Eventually we found them. They were slats of wood with bits of rope fixed on to tie them to our feet guaranteed to plait the wearer’s tibias and fibulas into a hopeless tangle within fifty yards and give him a couple of fractured ankles into the bargain.
We threw them over the snow hillock that hid the hedge, and felt better.
The Amundsen Touch
To get us going, evidently, a bit of Frozen North technique was called for, so I shouted “Mush!” in the best Amundsen style, skidded on a bit of ice and disappeared in a six foot drift off the edge of the road.
This put the party in a much better mood, and we made such rapid progress that within half an hour we had gone at least 150 yards. In this distance the sledges over-turned 67 times, each member of the party fell down 84 times, the sledge ropes broke 13 times and we found we had all got cigarettes but no matches.
By now dinner time was a couple of hours away and we were weakening. Son reconnoitred and reported a veritable Arctic Circle of snow ahead, with a jeep, two trailers, two lorries and two cars ditched and abandoned in the next half-mile.
So we changed our tactics, deciding to take one sledge through at a time. With two pushing and two pulling, this was easier.
The Sledge Bust
Despite a keen east wind whipping over the crest of the hill carrying powdered snow from the drifts along with it, we began to get almost light-hearted and then the sledge broke!
There was nothing for it but to pick the bundles for Finedon-Irthlingborough newsagents out of the snow and carry them, and so we staggered on.
And then, out of the frozen wastes, appeared a Burton schoolboy, Tony Laing, with a useful sledge. We put two of the bundles on that, he helped to pull it, and we continued, mournfully.
“In India,” said Son, carrying his papers on his head coolie-fashion, “I’ve haggled with the wogs about how many annas I’d give them to carry this amount of stuff.
“Now I’d give one of them a quid to carry this lot to Finedon and me as well if I could perch on top.”
We battled on. We passed a lorry over at 45 degrees in a drift, we glimpsed the top of the Volta Tower like castaways spotting a seagull, we floundered Wellington boot-top deep here and there, not knowing whether we were on or off what was once the road.
Came a Bulldozer
It was incredible that this deserted morass of snow with not a vehicle in sight was the once-busy A6.
Then suddenly in front was the roar of a Diesel and a flash of yellow paint. A bulldozer, coming up from Finedon, was patiently cutting a track through the mammoth drifts.
Gratefully we hauled the sledge into the lane it had made, piled on all the bundles except for Roly who strode on manfully with his, and slid easily downhill to Finedon cross-roads.
From the R.A.C. box we rang up the C.D. and reported that we had reached Finedon. “Gracious,” they coughed,inhaling accidentally, “you ought to have been there a couple of hours ago. WE could have done it easily.
Question is “Will We?”
“And you needn’t bother to go on to Rushden and Higham now the road’s open from Wellingborough so we’re sending papers that way.”
To get back to Kettering we had to trudge, struggle, climb, stumble and stagger back over the drifts to Burton and pick up the van.
Dusk was falling when we reached base. The Circulation Department had gone home to tea, all except one who breezed as be switched on his fire (both bars), “Jolly good idea that. Don’t know what you fellows would do without some good men on the circulation side. Will you run them through again to-morrow if the weather’s bad?”
Will we? Ask Son, Roly and Tommy!
Nine Men and a Girl
Note: Bunny, who eventually took the Rushden district edition by van, says the sledge parties stole all the limelight. He got through from Burton to Finedon station following a snowplough which got stuck there, and had to be dug out.
Going on towards Wellingborough without the plough escort, he had to charge through canyons of snow against Wellingborough golf links, and on the Higham-road had to stop and help dig out a lorry before he could get past.
On the way back the van became completely marooned at Wellingborough, and would have had to be abandoned but for the timely help of nine men and one girl.
They and Bunny picked up the van bodily and carried it back on to the road. Total time, Kettering to Rushden and back, five hours.